Following My Heart and Leaving the Ice Behind

Until a few months ago, I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I weren’t an ice dancer. Skating is all I’ve ever known; it’s part of my identity. I couldn’t imagine a life without it because 1) I love skating, and 2) I convinced myself at a young age that skating was my life’s purpose. Skating has taught me so many lessons and given me so many amazing memories, laughs, and friends. But it also has caused me more pain than words can describe. Performing in front of a crowd with my best friend by my side is one of the best feelings in the world. But after taking our bows and getting our scores, that feeling was shattered. Every single time. Even though we sacrificed so much and worked as hard as we could, our efforts would never be enough. When I loved it, this heartbreak was worth it; but to be honest, I don’t love it anymore, and I know that life has so much more in store for me.

Looking back, I know I should have stopped when the sport made me feel utterly worthless, making me refer to myself as “a waste of space”. First came the cutting. I can not even count the number of times I have been skating or competing, and I felt this overwhelming sense of never being good enough, messing things up again, or just being a complete failure. The very first time I ever tried to cut was with the blade of one of my skates. I should’ve quit then. Instead I told someone who I trusted could help me most. They did nothing. I continued to cut in silence for months. I then turned to the only way I thought we’d ever be successful, and I began to starve myself. I didn’t question the awful body expectations the sport has; I just followed the rules. I ate a few pieces of dry lettuce, spent my free time in the basement doing 1,000 burpee challenges, fainted, cried, and utterly despised my body because that is what the skating world taught me to do. I will never ever forget being at a skating camp, being weighed and coming in at my lowest weight ever (10 pounds under the weight that was considered underweight for my height and age), and a judge personally congratulated me on my weight loss. Thirty minutes after the weigh-in, we had one-on-one critiques with the officials. The very first thing the highly ranked judge said to me was, “Claire, I see that you’ve decided to take care of yourself. Congratulations.” What was intended to be a compliment actually seemed to indicate that the significant decrease in my weight, power, strength, mood, and health is what would finally allow Luke and I to accomplish our goals.

Despite all of this pain, I didn’t stop, because there were things I never wanted to let go of. I never ever wanted to let go of my brother’s hand. I never wanted to give up the feeling of flying across smooth, clean ice. I never wanted to give up the applause or seeing the audience smile as I performed. I have always skated for my audience and they know that. I knew I would never be the judges’ favorite, but every time I stepped off the ice, I would have so many people come tell me, “You are so fun to watch”, “You make me smile when you skate”, “I can tell how much you love it”. Those comments mean everything to me now; but when I was in the sport, the only comment I wanted to hear was, “Welcome to Team USA. You’ve made it, you are good enough, you finally matter in the skating world”. I never heard that. But I came to realize that I matter in other ways when I take my skates off and leave the rink.

I’ve always wanted to travel and make a difference. I thought maybe if we got on Team USA, we could travel. Maybe, if I we went far in the sport, I could help change the way female skaters are expected to look. From my struggles, I began to write and share. I discovered the wellness community and developed friends and used my voice to reach out. I started to experience what it feels like to make a difference in people’s lives. With a newly discovered sense of purpose, I felt what happiness and freedom felt like. I’ve never known a world without skating, but I do know that the first time I ever said I’m ready to end my skating career and move on, I felt lighter. All my anxiety and depression felt smaller because leaving skating means leaving behind all my fears and sufferings. I am immensely burnt-out, overworked, exhausted, but also very grateful. Grateful for the positives and the negatives because they have taught me so many lessons and made me who I am. I am also so excited. I am so ready for what is ahead of me. I am so ready to be the person I have always dreamed of being: a role model, a writer, a creator, a student, a friend, a hard-worker, successful, someone who makes an impact on the world and people’s lives, and someone who is actually doing what makes her happy.

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